THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORDThe Feast of the Epiphany is the continuation of the mystery of Christmas; but it appears on the Calendar of the Church with its own special character. Its very name, which signifies Manifestation, implies that it celebrates the apparition of God to his creatures.
For several centuries, the Nativity of our Lord was kept on this day; and when, in the year 376, the decree of the Holy See obliged all Churches to keep the Nativity on the 25th December, as Rome did - the Sixth of January was not robbed of all its ancient glory. It was still to be called the Epiphany, and the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ was also commemorated on this same Feast, which Tradition had marked as the day on which that Baptism took place.
The Greek Church gives this Feast the venerable and mysterious name of Theophania, which is of such frequent recurrence in the early Fathers, as signifying a divine Apparition. We find this name applied to this Feast by Eusebius, St. Gregory Nazianzum, and St. Isidore of Pelusium. In the liturgical books of the Melchite Church the Feast goes under no other name.
The Orientals call this solemnity also the holy on account of its being the day on which Baptism was administered, (for, as we have just mentioned, our Lord was baptised on this same day.) Baptism is called by the holy Fathers Illumination, and they who received it Illuminated.
Lastly, this Feast is called, in many countries, King’s Feast: it is, of course, an allusion to the Magi, whose journey to Bethlehem is so continually mentioned in to-day’s Office.
The Epiphany shares with the Feasts of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, the honour of being called, in the Canon of the Mass, a Day most holy. It is also one of the cardinal Feasts, that is, one of those on which the arrangement of the Christian Year is based; for, as we have Sundays after Easter, and Sundays after Pentecost, so also we count six Sundays after the Epiphany.
The Epiphany is indeed great Feast, and the joy caused us by the Birth of our Jesus must be renewed on it, for, as though it were a second Christmas Day, it shows us our Incarnate God in a new light. It leaves us all the sweetness of the dear Babe of Bethlehem, who hath appeared to us already in love; but to this it adds its own grand manifestation of the divinity of our Jesus. At Christmas, it was a few Shepherds that were invited by the Angels to go and recognise THE WORD MADE FLESH; but now, at the Epiphany, the voice of God himself calls the whole world to adore this Jesus, and hear him.
The mystery of the Epiphany brings upon us three magnificent rays of the Sun of Justice, our Saviour. In the calendar of pagan Rome, this sixth day of January was devoted to the celebration of the triple triumph of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire: but when Jesus, our Prince of peace, whose empire knows no limits, had secured victory to his Church by the blood of the Martyrs - then did this his Church decree, that a triple triumph of the Immortal King should be substituted, in the Christian Calendar, for those other three triumphs which had been won by the adopted son of Caesar.
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